Thursday, August 10, 2006

Series in Critical Security 6

Without coursework, I'm much better at responding to current events.

Michael Chertoff, the U.S. homeland security secretary, told reporters earlier, "We believe that these arrests [in England] have significantly disrupted the threat, but we cannot be sure that the threat has been entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted." NY Times. "Plot to Bomb Jets Is Thwarted in Britain".
The recent terrorist threat to British and American airlines crossing the Atlantic to the US provides us with an excellent opportunity to inquire about the production, dissemination, and consumption of "threats."
I think its useful to examine first what is meant by the word "threat." (thanks to Craig for the methodology)

Old English þreat "crowd, troop," also "oppression, menace," related to þreotan "to trouble, weary," from P.Gmc. *threutanan (cf. Ger. verdrießen "to vex"), from PIE *trud- "push, press" (cf. L. trudere "to press, thrust," O.C.S. trudu "oppression," M.Ir. trott "quarrel, conflict"). Sense of "conditional declaration of hostile intention" was in Old English The verb threaten is Old English þreatnian; threatening in the sense of "portending no good" is recorded from 1530.


  1. An expression of an intention to inflict pain, injury, evil, or punishment.
  2. An indication of impending danger or harm.
  3. One that is regarded as a possible danger; a menace.
  4. Taking advantage of a vulnerability.
  5. A combination of the risk, the consequence of that risk, and the likelihood that the negative event will take place.

Today was the first time that the US has been put on the red SEVERE threat level. But what does this mean, beyond the call for all of us to, "remain vigilant"? What are the political consequences of such a declaration? Is it possible to examine this moment as a discursive event? - creating facts through fiction.

David Mamet wrote Secret Names in the Threepenny Review saying, "...the application of jargon, is an understood tool for the manipulation of behavior... If we say that the government has lowered [or raised] the threat level, then we must mean that the government is in charge of the threat. Semantically, what else is the meaning of this "color code"? One cannot act differently on a day coded red than on one coded orange, and indeed no one even suggests that one can... He who defends everything defends nothing, as Napolean said... So semantically - that is, as judged by the way in which words influence thought and so action - the procolamation of the threat level is an admission that there is no threat. Or that if a threat exists, the government is powerless to deal wth it. And those who accept the reiteration of the threat level have submitted... daily trading submission first for an abatement of anxiety and, as time goes by, for painful and shameful self-examination." Even Mamet's thoughts do not truely hit the mark though, in my opinion.

Is this crazy talk? I mean people have died, right? Don't we need to pay attention to this shit to prevent more suffering? This analysis of discourse is not meant to belittle or demean the pain, suffering, and death of the victims of terrorism. It is an effort to understand the context of that violence to honor thier lives by examining the masquerade orchestrated by the state, in which the victims occupy center stage. What could be more belittling than to prop up someone's suffering as a vindication for more suffering. More importantly, this masquerade represents an unwillingness of the state to critically examine thier own, "ethnic state security maps."

The etymology of the word threat contains interesting references to notions of state security. First, the word þreat refers to a crowd or troop signaling a recognition to challenges to soveriegnty and legitmacy. Second, the last instance, "The verb threaten is Old English þreatnian; threatening in the sense of "portending no good" is recorded from 1530." The notion of "good" as in the public good or national good is problematic; it has been used to rationalize nearly any kind of state violence that exists - from genocide to forced sterilizations etc. At this point it is possible to make that claim that the words threat and security are not antonyms, but work mutually together in security discourse to produce a politico-social affect. In this formulation the security of the state is garnered through the strategic creation and management of "threats."

This is done discursively, but responsibility has to be placed upon geo-political actions that also generate threats that necessarily require management. President Bush's declaration today that we are at war with Islamic Fascism, is a historically produced situation. Systemic US intervention in Muslim affairs have removed the political center to allow only extremes to exist. Here's where the management comes in. Once the extremes become more popular as modes of understanding the geo-political landscape, the more the US can make claims like Bush did this morning. The creation of a particular political reality requires continual discursive maintanence to harness the political and rhetorical power of the situation. A process that sequesters more and more authority in the face of contradiction.

The acceptance or rejection of the "threat" level is not simply a matter of access to education and information as some may argue or political affiliation (The right-wing Minutemen group rejects any threat level that is not SEVERE). Or even just a matter of ignorance. I think it also has to do with your position in the "ethnic state security map." If you are positioned poorly in this model, you will likely view security as political manipualtion and a threat to your personal security. If you are located in a favorable position, it is likely that you will agree with the security protocol proclaiming your allegence to the system of inequality that produces your priviledge.

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"What can I wear today, I don't have anything to go with SEVERE!"

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Click HERE for continuation of comment stream on defintions and use of 'discourse'


Blogger rama said...

Delighted to discover this blog! I look forward to perusing and savouring the archive contents. Best, rama

3:46 AM  
Blogger Jason Chang said...

Rama, Thank you for your enthusiasim. As you are reading through the various posts please feel welcomed to comment, propose questions, suggestions, corrections, etc. I looked at your blogger profile and I would love to hear if any of your experience can speak to the issues raised in the Critical Security Series. Thanks again.
See in the blogsphere,

9:06 AM  
Blogger B. Flis said...

hey Jason,

I've been clandestinely reading with great enthusiasm and respect your writings here since I found the blog a few days ago. This is really exciting material to be working with, and you always seem to infuse your shared knowledge with an energy that's contagious!

I'm crawling out of the comment rug today though to ask for a clarification of a term you're using that I thought I had ordinarily no problem defining, but here, seeing that it's such a contigent part of your argument, I'd appreciate your elucidation on its use here: DISCURSIVE!!!

Is it three, four times in this entry alone, and it seems to get just slightly recontextualized each time. What do you mean, or have in mind roughly, when you're using it here (or is it an assumption that you're even defining it singularly?). in the sense of digression? repetitive rhetoric? analytic reasoning?

looking fwd to more :)

7:40 PM  
Blogger Jason Chang said...

Mr Flis, what a pleasant surprise. I've been thinking of you since the launching of Thrown Against, fun stuff going on there.
Great question about defining DISCURSIVE. I spent three months last semester trying to find out what it was and how to use it (via Foucault, post-structuralism, Orientalism, etc.) I think of it primarily in the Foucauldian way of, "no longer treating discourse as groups of signs signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systemically form the objects of which they speak." Anyways, let me see if I can clarify the four uses in this post (I love this stuff anyways).
1. Discursive event: a moment or instance when the attention of popular personalities, state institutions, and the media converge upon a single action in an effort to produce a "consensus" explanation (or representation). I use the "creating facts through fiction" to connect the SEVERE threat level to socialization of anxiety and fear.
2.This analysis of discourse: meaning the examination of the production of state security knowledge, or knowledge of threats to the state. Connected to discursive event in that discourse analysis attempts to identify the gaps and breaks between events, or how events are "differentiated" (undocumented Canadians in the US vs. undocumented Mexicans in the US).
3.This is done discursively: OK sloppy use, you got me. Basically refering the two previous paragraphs with the historical process of signification regarding "threats". Also meant to distinguish the difference between social structural analysis of political economic conditions vs. political systems of representation and signification.
4.continual discursive maintanence: connected to discursive event and discourse analysis. Discursive maintanence is the process of producing and re-producing the explanations, interpretations and representations
of actions that justify the hegemonic world-view.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Jason Chang said...

Please continue to call me on sloppy usage of jargon, I'm a terrible perpetrator of such crimes.
I guess, I'm a recovering academic if you will.
Best Wishes,

11:53 PM  
Blogger Jason Chang said...

go to
for continuation of comment stream from b.flis on this subject

9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey goat-bugger, gimme a shout if you ever check this.

12:00 AM  

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